An entertaining thriller…Little Brother is also a practical handbook of digital self-defense. Marcus's guided tour through RFID cloners, cryptography and Bayesian math is one of the book's principal delights…Little Brother is a terrific read, but it also claims a place in the tradition of polemical science-fiction novels like Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451 (with a dash of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"). It owes a more immediate debt to Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli's comic book series DMZ, about the adventures of a photojournalist in the midst of a new American civil war.
The New York Times
This novel brims with new and evolving technology, which may fascinate some readers and bog down others. But the well-integrated explanations, plot twists, humor and romance between Marcus and a "h4wt" (translation: "hot") geeky babe will keep this thriller humming along even for techno-duhs. Cory Doctorow tackles timely issues, including the erosion of civil liberties in the name of national security. Hopefully, teens will pass this cautionary tale on to parents, teachers and government officials.
The Washington Post
SF author Doctorow (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom), coeditor of the influential blog BoingBoing, tells a believable and frightening tale of a near-future San Francisco, victimized first by terrorists and then by an out-of-control Department of Homeland Security determined to turn the city into a virtual police state. Innocent of any wrongdoing beyond cutting school, high school student and techno-geek Marcus is arrested, illegally interrogated and humiliated by overzealous DHS personnel who also "disappear" his best friend, Darryl, along with hundreds of other U.S. citizens. Moved in part by a desire for revenge and in part by a passionate belief in the Bill of Rights, Marcus vows to drive the DHS out of his beloved city. Using the Internet and other technologies, he plays a dangerous game of cat and mouse, disrupting the government's attempts to create virtually universal electronic surveillance while recruiting other young people to his guerilla movement. Filled with sharp dialogue and detailed descriptions of how to counteract gait-recognition cameras, arphids (radio frequency ID tags), wireless Internet tracers and other surveillance devices, this work makes its admittedly didactic point within a tautly crafted fictional framework. Ages 13-up. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 18.
In a tale set in San Francisco in the near future, seventeen-year-old technophile Marcus Yallow and his three friends ditch school to participate in a combination online/real-life "best game ever made," Harajuku Fun Madness. Victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, they are seized and vigorously interrogated by the Department of Homeland Security following a horrific terrorist attack. Eventually released, Marcus returns to find a paranoid society willing to forgo personal freedoms for a sense of artificial security. Outraged he uses his hacker skills and problem-solving abilities to set into motion a chain of events that initiate a series of unintended consequences. Consequently, Marcus, aka M1k3y, finds himself in the role of the reluctant leader of a hard-to-control rebellion as he struggles with broken friendships, conflicted parents, a strong-willed girlfriend, and a most uncertain future. Through the voice of his young protagonist, the author manages to explain naturally the necessary technical tools and scientific concepts in this fast-paced and well-written story. (Who would ever think that the "paradox of the false positive" could be so understandable and interesting?) The reader is privy to Marcus's gut-wrenching angst, frustration, and terror, thankfully offset by his self-awareness and humorous observations. As with "Big Brother" in George Orwell's 1984, this book will motivate the reader to contemplate free speech, due process, and political activism with new insights. Reviewer: Lynne Farrell Stover
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)
Children's Literature - Keri Collins Lewis
Marcus believes it is another typical day in his life as a student at Cesar Chavez High School in San Francisco: outsmarting the school's computer systems; stumping the gait-recognition security cameras; evading the class bully by corrupting his cell phone with thousands of spam text messages; and escaping the confines of his classes to play Harajuku Fun Madness, an Alternate Reality Game. The game turns deadly when Marcus and his friends are caught up in the chaos of a terrorist attack, taken prisoner by the Department of Homeland Security, and interrogated for days. When he is finally released, he finds his city has been taken over by security, with everyone being monitored for suspicious activity. Determined to hold on to his civil liberties and fight back against the DHS, Marcus develops an underground Internet, and soon XNetters everywhere are uniting to protest the government's invasive spying on anyone whose ideology differs from theirs. What freedoms are people willing to sacrifice in exchange for the elusive feeling of "being safe"? While this futuristic techno-thriller explores timely and critically important themes such as privacy, the Bill of Rights, the role of government, and the imperfect nature of security systems, at its heart it is a classic adventure story about the power of the people to challenge authority and one teen's refusal to give up his rights without a fight. A sure hit with technophiles and politically-aware teens as well as those who question authority (which means almost all teens), this smartly written novel has the potential to launch powerful classroom discussions and change the way young people think about government. It should motivate all readersto take a more active role in voting and governmental accountability, while also seriously analyzing their own views about civil liberties. Reviewer: Keri Collins Lewis
KLIATT - Paula Rohrlick
Marcus, age 17, and his hacker friends pick the wrong day to cut school. They get caught up in the chaos following a major terrorist attack on San Francisco and are taken away by the Department of Homeland Security for heavy-handed interrogation. When Marcus is finally released, he's infuriated at how his civil rights were ignored, and even angrier to find that in the wake of the attack the DHS has turned the city into a police state, installing all kinds of invasive security devices and treating everyone as possible suspects. "No price was too high for security," the President has declared, but Marcus disagrees, and he sets out to take down the DHS, using all the subversive online tactics he and his clever friends can dream up. Suspenseful, fast-moving and crammed full of techno-talk, this tale of rebellious, freedom-loving geeks vs. repressive authority is all too believable. Doctorow is a well-known tech journalist and novelist, and Afterwords by a security technologist and an Xbox hacker from MIT reinforce the message about the importance of standing up for freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. This updated version of 1984 will have great appeal to all the techno-types in your community. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up- When he ditches school one Friday morning, 17-year-old Marcus is hoping to get a head start on the Harajuku Fun Madness clue. But after a terrorist attack in San Francisco, he and his friends are swept up in the extralegal world of the Department of Homeland Security. After questioning that includes physical torture and psychological stress, Marcus is released, a marked man in a much darker San Francisco: a city of constant surveillance and civil-liberty forfeiture. Encouraging hackers from around the city, Marcus fights against the system while falling for one hacker in particular. Doctorow rapidly confronts issues, from civil liberties to cryptology to social justice. While his political bias is obvious, he does try to depict opposing viewpoints fairly. Those who have embraced the legislative developments since 9/11 may be horrified by his harsh take on Homeland Security, Guantánamo Bay, and the PATRIOT Act. Politics aside, Marcus is a wonderfully developed character: hyperaware of his surroundings, trying to redress past wrongs, and rebelling against authority. Teen espionage fans will appreciate the numerous gadgets made from everyday materials. One afterword by a noted cryptologist and another from an infamous hacker further reflect Doctorow's principles, and a bibliography has resources for teens interested in intellectual freedom, information access, and technology enhancements. Curious readers will also be able to visit BoingBoing, an eclectic group blog that Doctorow coedits. Raising pertinent questions and fostering discussion, this techno-thriller is an outstanding first purchase.-Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library
In this unapologetically didactic tribute to 1984, Marcus-known online as w1n5t0n (pronounced "Winston")-takes on the Department of Homeland Security. It's only a few years in the future, and surveillance software is everywhere. Monitored laptops track students' computer use; transit passes and automated toll systems track travel; credit-card networks track consumer purchasing. A terrorist attack on San Francisco is all the excuse the DHS needs for a crackdown, and Marcus is swept up in the random post-bombing sweeps. But where arrest and torture break 1984's Winston, they energize w1n5t0n. Released from humiliating imprisonment and determined to fight those who say that the innocent have nothing to hide, Marcus becomes the driving force behind a network of teenagers fighting the surveillance state. Long passages of beloved tech-guru Doctorow's novel are unabashedly educational, detailing the history of computing, how to use anti-surveillance software and anarchist philosophies. Yet in the midst of all this overt indoctrination, Marcus exists as a fully formed character, whose adolescent loves and political intrigues are compelling for more than just propagandistic reasons. Terrifying glimpse of the future-or the present. (Fiction. 13+)
Read an Excerpt
This chapter is dedicated to BakkaPhoenix Books in Toronto,
Canada. Bakka is the oldest science fiction bookstore in the
world, and it made me the mutant I am today. I wandered in for
the first time around the age of 10 and asked for some
recommendations. Tanya Huff (yes, the Tanya Huff, but she
wasn't a famous writer back then!) took me back into the used
section and pressed a copy of H. Beam Piper's "Little Fuzzy" into
my hands, and changed my life forever. By the time I was 18, I was
working at Bakka -- I
took over from Tanya when she retired to
write full time -- and
I learned lifelong
lessons about how and
why people buy books. I think every writer should work at a
bookstore (and plenty of writers have worked at Bakka over the
years! For the 30th anniversary of the store, they put together an
anthology of stories by Bakka writers that included work by
Michelle Sagara (AKA Michelle West), Tanya Huff, Nalo
Hopkinson, Tara Tallan -- and
BakkaPhoenix Books: http://www.bakkaphoenixbooks.com/ 697
Queen Street West, Toronto ON Canada M6J1E6, +1 416 963
I'm a senior at Cesar Chavez high in San Francisco's sunny
Mission district, and that makes me one of the most surveilled
people in the world. My name is Marcus Yallow, but back when
this story starts, I was going by w1n5t0n. Pronounced "Winston."
Not pronounced "Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn" -- unless
you're a clueless disciplinary officer who's far enough
behind the curve that you still call the Internet "the information
I know just such a clueless person, and his name is Fred
Benson, one of three vice-principals
at Cesar Chavez. He's a
sucking chest wound of a human being. But if you're going to
have a jailer, better a clueless one than one who's really on the
"Marcus Yallow," he said over the PA one Friday morning. The
PA isn't very good to begin with, and when you combine that with
Benson's habitual mumble, you get something that sounds more
like someone struggling to digest a bad burrito than a school
announcement. But human beings are good at picking their names
out of audio confusion -- it's
a survival trait.
I grabbed my bag and folded my laptop three-quarters
shut -- I
didn't want to blow my downloads -- and
got ready for the
"Report to the administration office immediately."
My social studies teacher, Ms Galvez, rolled her eyes at me and
I rolled my eyes back at her. The Man was always coming down
on me, just because I go through school firewalls like wet
kleenex, spoof the gait-recognition
software, and nuke the snitch
chips they track us with. Galvez is a good type, anyway, never
holds that against me (especially when I'm helping get with her
webmail so she can talk to her brother who's stationed in Iraq).
My boy Darryl gave me a smack on the ass as I walked past.
I've known Darryl since we were still in diapers and escaping
and I've been getting him into and out of trouble
the whole time. I raised my arms over my head like a prizefighter
and made my exit from Social Studies and began the perpwalk
I was halfway there when my phone went. That was another no-no -- phones
are muy prohibido at Chavez High -- but
that stop me? I ducked into the toilet and shut myself in the
middle stall (the furthest stall is always grossest because so many
people head straight for it, hoping to escape the smell and the
squick -- the
smart money and good hygiene is down the middle).
I checked the phone -- my
home PC had sent it an email to tell it
that there was something new up on Harajuku Fun Madness,
which happens to be the best game ever invented.
I grinned. Spending Fridays at school was teh suck anyway, and
I was glad of the excuse to make my escape.
I ambled the rest of the way to Benson's office and tossed him a
wave as I sailed through the door.
"If it isn't Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn,"
Fredrick Benson -- Social
Security number 545-03-2343,
birth August 15 1962, mother's maiden name Di Bona, hometown
Petaluma -- is
a lot taller than me. I'm a runty 5'8", while he
stands 6'7", and his college basketball days are far enough behind
him that his chest muscles have turned into saggy manboobs
were painfully obvious through his freebie dotcom
He always looks like he's about to slamdunk
your ass, and he's
really into raising his voice for dramatic effect. Both these start to
lose their efficacy with repeated application.
"Sorry, nope," I said. "I never heard of this R2D2 character of
"W1n5t0n," he said, spelling it out again. He gave me a hairy
eyeball and waited for me to wilt. Of course it was my handle, and
had been for years. It was the identity I used when I was posting
where I was making my contributions to the
field of applied security research. You know, like sneaking out of
school and disabling the mindertracer
on my phone. But he didn't
know that this was my handle. Only a small number of people did,
and I trusted them all to the end of the earth.
"Um, not ringing any bells," I said. I'd done some pretty cool
stuff around school using that handle -- I
was very proud of my
work on snitch-tag
killers -- and
if he could link the two identities,
I'd be in trouble. No one at school ever called me w1n5t0n or even
Winston. Not even my pals. It was Marcus or nothing.
Benson settled down behind his desk and tapped his classring
nervously on his blotter. He did this whenever things started to go
bad for him. Poker players call stuff like this a "tell" -- something
that let you know what was going on in the other guy's head. I
knew Benson's tells backwards and forwards.
"Marcus, I hope you realize how serious this is."